Flooding is by far the most common, costliest disaster in Canada. In British Columbia, periodic floods have been a fact of life along rivers, lakes, and coasts since time immemorial. Floods are prominent in many First Nations’ creation stories and have shaped seasonal migrations and stewardship practices for ages.
Due to the placement of many reserves on floodplains, First Nations in B.C. have faced flood concerns for years, and the unprecedented atmospheric river events in 2021 led to major flooding and landslides across south-central and southern B.C. impacted many British Columbians. Impacts of the Atmospheric River events included, but were not limited to, overflow of the Nooksack River into the Sumas Prairie, extensive damage to critical infrastructure including highways, and devastating impacts to Merritt and Princeton, and First Nations communities along Highway 8. These events, in addition to widespread flooding around the province in 2020, have brought into sharp focus the significant disruption that flooding causes for communities, economies, critical infrastructure, and the environment.
Flood risks to British Columbians are substantial and continue to grow due to land use pressures and climate change. Meanwhile, government mandates and priorities such as future proofing our ability to respond to crises, adapting to climate change, and meaningful Indigenous reconciliation are strong policy drivers, requiring new, modern approaches to flood management that better serve the needs of the people.
Defining a coherent, strategic vision for flood management is needed to turn the corner and increase flood resilience for British Columbians. This strategic vision must clearly define what needs to be achieved, as well as how this could be done over time. It also must build on what the provincial government has already heard at multiple engagement events related to flood management, disaster risk management, climate change, and resource stewardship forums.